Baylor beats MBA to win first football state title in 49 years

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Baylor senior Evan Haynie holds the TSSAA Division II-AAA football championship trophy as the Red Raiders celebrate their win against Montgomery Bell Academy in the BlueCross Bowl on Thursday night at Finley Stadium.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Baylor senior Evan Haynie holds the TSSAA Division II-AAA football championship trophy as the Red Raiders celebrate their win against Montgomery Bell Academy in the BlueCross Bowl on Thursday night at Finley Stadium.

One year shy of the golden anniversary for Baylor's first football state championship, the Red Raiders are golden once again.

Rallying from an early 14-point deficit in a first half dominated by offense Thursday night at Finley Stadium, Baylor's defense stiffened in the second half while a pair of late drives — one to extend its lead and the last to pick up the two first downs needed to run out the clock — proved to be the difference in a 38-34 win over previously unbeaten Montgomery Bell Academy in the TSSAA Division II-AAA BlueCross Bowl.

"We worked so hard all year for this," said Red Raiders senior running back Caleb Hampton, who was named the game's MVP after rushing for 170 yards on 24 carries and scoring two touchdowns.

"This took everybody," Hampton continued. "Our linemen, our defense, our playmakers, coach (Erik) Kimrey and the other coaches. I feel so blessed and grateful for this."

The teams combined for 912 total yards, but nearly 600 of that came in the first half, when both scored four times. Baylor's defense limited MBA to 158 total yards in the second half, forcing two punts and the Big Red's first lost fumble of the season for a critical third-quarter stop.

(READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Thursday's BlueCross Bowl state championship games in Chattanooga)

"I can't give (defensive coordinator) Chris Brown and his staff enough credit," said Kimrey, who was hired as Baylor's head coach in early February. "We struggled to stop them in the first half, but he made some key adjustments at halftime and the kids believed something great was about to happen."

MBA (12-1), which had won the previous five series meetings and ended Baylor's season the past three years, built a 21-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter when senior quarterback Marcel Reed hit Jonothan Moore on an 8-yard touchdown toss.

Baylor (11-2) answered two plays later with a 48-yard scoring run by Amari Jefferson, then pulled even on a shifty 32-yard run by Hampton — a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist — but ultimately had to settle for a four-point halftime deficit, 28-24.

"In the locker room at halftime, we were just reminding each other this was our last game together, so look at your brother next to you and fight for them," Hampton said. "We came out and believed."

A promising opportunity for MBA to extend its lead came up short when Reed, who has committed to Ole Miss and was playing in his third state title game in four years, was stripped of the ball and Evan Haynie recovered at the Baylor 22. Five plays later, Whit Muschamp lofted a 46-yard pass down the visitors' sideline that Jefferson hauled in to give Baylor its first lead of the night, 31-28 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.

After forcing a punt, Baylor's next possession sent MBA reeling as the Red Raiders extended their lead to 10 by converted three third downs, including a 15-yard scramble by Muschamp on third-and-9, followed three plays later by Hampton's 45-yard scoring run on third-and-2.

"Whit does such a great job of extending plays, even when I call a bad one," Kimrey said of his junior quarterback, who finished 19-of-29 passing for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "That's what he did on that (third down) play, he made some magic.

"Then we ran a little play we call Zorro into the boundary, and Caleb, who's been a rock star for this school and this community, did what he's done all year and put his foot in the ground and made something happen."

After Reed threw his fifth touchdown pass of the night, covering 13 yards to Blake Ragsdale with 3:19 remaining to bring his team within four points, Baylor recovered the onside kick. Jefferson then gained 4 yards on third-and-3, and with MBA out of timeouts, Hampton picked up another first down that allowed the Red Raiders to run out the clock.

Baylor, which had finished runner-up three times (1977, 2010, 2011) since winning the Class AAA title in 1973, ran 20 more offensive plays than MBA and finished with 517 total yards.

The Big Red were left to settle for their sixth runner-up finish in as many BlueCross Bowl appearances since winning the title in 2014, having fallen short of the final in 2018 and 2020. The Nashville program was second in 2019 and last year to McCallie, and while MBA's one-point semifinal win two weeks ago ended the Blue Tornado's bid for a fourth straight DII-AAA title, Baylor's win Thursday brought another gold ball trophy to Chattanooga.

"When we got the onside kick, the game was put in the O-line's hands," said Baylor senior two-way tackle Brycen Sanders, also an Ole Miss commitment. "We knew we just needed two first downs, so there was no way we were going to get stopped."

Added Hampton: "I was just thinking protect the ball, make a couple of guys miss and get the first. The offensive linemen did their job, so I had to do mine.

"We all bought in to the culture Coach Kimrey started building from the first day he arrived, and all our work finally paid off."

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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